French Macarons, a Journey

For most of my life I stayed away from all macaroons, believing the only type that existed were the nasty, dried out, coconut, cardboard can variety served during Passover. To clarify, they are indeed nasty, and they’re macaroons with two “o”s.

It was during my stint working on a cookbook a few years ago that I tried a French-style macaron (note: just one “o”). When I was first offered one by the pastry chef, I immediately said “no thanks,” expecting a coconut puff thing. Later that day, leftover light green sandwich cookies made an appearance at family meal (restaurant speak for a meal that employees eat together before service) and I grabbed one thinking “this looks interesting.” I took a bite of this airy-crunchy-chewy cookie with a soft, nutty, lightly green-tea flavor, and knew I had discovered something. It was then I discovered that it was a macaron, which set off a lengthy debate about the term.

Pierre Herme's Famous Ispahan Macaron

In the end, I was converted to a full-fledged macaron fan and begged the pastry chef for the recipe. He gave it me, but his descriptions of aging the egg whites and releasing the cookies from the parchment paper using steam had me questioning whether my impatient baking habits would be able to handle it, so the recipe was put on the back-burner.

A few months later I visited Paris for the first time and immediately sought out Pierre Herme’s macarons. I may not have found love in Paris, but I did become even more infatuated with this fascinating and mysterious cookie, yet still intimidated by the idea of making them myself.

Lauderee's Macarons, Paris

It’s now been just over two years since my first marcaron and I finally worked up the nerve to try it. I used Tartelette’s macaron recipe, which she claims is “part of her DNA” and David Lebovitz’s chocolate ganache filling. I played with the flavors of both to create a delicious mocha* and while I think I nailed the ganache and macaron flavors, the cookies still needed some work.

These are known for being fickle cookies. Per Tartelette’s instructions, I aged the egg whites in the refrigerator for four days, then let them come to room temperature before using. The one step I skipped was her recommendation to let the piped cookies sit for an hour before baking.

Frustratingly, but not surprising, the results were mixed. The first batch of cookies turned out beautifully, with just one cracking and all developing the coveted “foot” at the bottom. The second batch, on the other hand, almost all the cookies cracked and I had trouble getting them to bake all the way through. Quite frankly, while they tasted great they were a bit of a mess.

For now, we’ll call my macaron ambitions a journey, as I think this is an instance of practice-makes-perfect.

Mocha Macarons

*For Mocha Macarons: add 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder and 1/2 teaspoon instant espresso or coffee powder (perfect use of Starbucks Via) to the ground almonds; add 1 teaspoon instant espresso or coffee powder to the ganache.

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Paris Day 8: Foodie Destinations & Souffle Mania

Hediard

Monday was our last day in Paris, the day I had reserved to visit foodie destinations: the cookware store Dehillerin; Place de la Madeleine, a square filled with gourmet food shops; and dinner at Le Souffle. It was so full of food-related activities that I decided this day deserved its own post.

Throughout the day we toured the city on an open-topped, hop-on-hop-off bus. While I wouldn’t recommend the tour due to the traffic in Paris, it did allow us to get off at various areas we hadn’t yet reached by foot. One of the main stops was Place de la Madeleine, a square surrounded by gourmet food and chocolate shops. We bought a few pieces of chocolate at Fauchon that were eaten in a hurry along with a gift set of jams to take home. Then we went to Hediard around the corner where I purchased a set of candied fruits. The store had a tremendous display of perfect-looking fruits and vegetables near the entrance that were so perfect they didn’t look real – on first glance they looked as though they were made from wax. In a small way this store reminded me of Chicago’s Fox & Obel.

The final bus stop for us was within walking distance on Dehillerin, a renowned cookware store. There were so many things I wanted there but had to leave without buying because it would have been too difficult to get purchases home. Read more of this >>

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Paris Day 7: Falafel & More

L'As Du Falafel

I skipped breakfast Sunday as I had two big eating events that day and I wanted to be sure to leave room. The first, a stop was L’ As Du Falafel in Marais (transaltion: The Ace), and the second La Petit Cour in St. Germain for dinner.

We had planned all along to visit the Marais district Sunday afternoon for a walking tour by Paris Walks. It was an interesting tour, full of history and scandal – everything you’re looking for in Sunday afternoon entertainment. When the tour ended at 4:30, we hauled back to L’As Du Falafel on rue de Rosiers to wait in the still-long line for our falafels. There was no opportunity to make requests or changes, you got it as it was along with a napkin and fork, and we weren’t disappointed. Yes, my mom stopped at the first trashcan to dispose of the eggplant but otherwise there were no alterations.

For those of you not familiar with falafel, they’re made of deep-fried balls of seasoned chickepeas served in a pita with vegetables and tahini sauce. It’s an interesting mix of temperature and texture, with the warm and crisp falafel contrasting with the cold yet crisp vegetables and soft pita bread. The vegetables in this falafel were cabbage, cucumber, tomato and roasted eggplant, all served in many layers with the falafel and tahini drizzled on top. Read more of this >>

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Paris Days 5 & 6: Macarons & Croissants are All I Need

I ate the most delicious thing ever and it wasn’t even chocolate: the Ispahan macaron from Pierre Hermé. Not only is the pink-colored macaron gorgeous to look at with its white cream filling surrounded by fresh raspberries and topped with a single rose petal, but the taste is unlike anything I’ve ever tried. It’s creamy and crunchy, subdued subtle flavors of rose with bursts of raspberry sweetness. The macaron itself is rose and the cream filling is flavored with rose petals and small pieces of lychee. It is fancy and fussy and uniquely French, but is also one of the most amazing desserts I’ve ever eaten. It’s the best thing in Paris, along with those croissants…

The croissants truly are spectacular. It’s easy to get used to stale croissants at the neighborhood coffee shops at home, and although I made them many times in culinary school I think that due to the labor involved, along with copious amounts of butter, I’d convinced myself I didn’t like them. Oh, how wrong I was. The croissants found in nearly every café and bakery in Paris have all been delicious with light and flaky layers and delicious buttery flavor. My mom loves the ones with the chocolate centers but I prefer the delicious simplicity of the plain. Read more of this >>

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Paris Days 3 & 4: Travelog/Foodie Blog

Le Petit Patissier by Chaim Soutine

This may sound strange, but I wasn’t really expecting to enjoy Paris. I was expecting to enjoy my time here and definitely the food, but not the city itself. I originally decided to visit Paris to learn (meaning eat) about the food and do some soul-searching, to find myself. My plans changed somewhat when my mom decided to join me on my journey. While I welcomed her company along with the nicer hotel that came with it, I knew the trip had become more of a tourist vacation than I’d previously planned. There went my daydream of sitting alone at a sidewalk café, drinking an espresso or glass of wine with my journal or a good book.

Please don’t misread this, I’m not complaining about the change in plans, just explaining why in my mind I had prepared myself not to enjoy Paris, because I hadn’t truly planned on seeing it. Now, more than halfway through our trip I feel as though I’ve gotten to see and experience the beauty that is Paris. We’ve visited most of the tourist destinations – the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum with the Mona Lisa, Versailles, Notré Dame and the list goes on. We’ve also enjoyed many meals and snacks, possibly too many… Read more of this >>

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